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GBA Review

Thanks to EAGB Advance for the review

Get your GBA in all colours from Lik Sang


I have been playing video games for a long time and I consider myself to be very lucky because of this. I have seen video game since their early days of being in the home from the original Pong machines to the many years of the Atari 2600. We have certainly come a long way.

I have also been a fan of portable gaming for a while too. I used to play the old Game and Watch style pocket LCD games when I was a kid and eventually I got into things like the Atari Lynx and Sega Nomad. I skipped the original Game Boy because I did not like the screen and was not in the financial position to support it. Actually... I never owned a Game Boy until the release of the Game Boy Color - when all of my concerns with the screen quality were completely erased. (The screen blur on the original Game Boy and Game Boy Pocket gave me headaches.)

So now, in 2001, after a long time of planning and research... the newest Game Boy is here in the form of the Game Boy Advance. Yes, we've all read the "first impressions" and ogled at the tons of beautiful pictures, which I'm sorry to add, I couldn't provide many of. But don't be put-off, since I'm going to give you something better, which is my unbiased impressions of the GBA. I will also, in the process, address the complaints most often heard around the net about Nintendo's newest handheld.

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Purpose Of The GBA

For those who know pratically nothing about the GBA (yes, such people actually exist), the purpose of this product is to provide us, the lucky gamers, with the means to play some of the best video games anytime we want and, more importantly, anyWHERE we want. Nintendo has taken a long time to bring us the next level of portable gaming (since it could easily be argued that the GBC was merely a stop gap, while the technology behind the GBA became less expensive) and it should easily meet the needs of any gamer on the go.

Features Of The GBA

The Game Boy Advance is an evolutionary step in handheld gaming. Compared to the Game Boy Color, the screen is much larger (50% is usually the reported difference). The processor is now a full 32-bit compared to the 8-bit of the GBC. Color pallet, resolution and everything else you would expect are overhauled. Sound is also a remarkable improvement. I was not looking for CD quality sound like some people so I was quite happy with the results.

The system has also adopted the 'horizontal' orientation that many competitors have used (most recently being the Neo Geo Pocket Color and WonderSwan). Two 'shoulder' buttons have been added for more control. One noticeably absent feature is the lack of an AC adapter port. An AC adapter is available, however, using a battery pack type piece with an AC plug going into it. The battery life has also been increased by at least 5 hours over the GBC, which is an excellent surprise. The headphone port is located on the bottom right hand side of the system next to the volume control, nicely out of the way.

My favorite new feature is easily the power light. Yes... it may be a small feature, it may be silly to think that this is my favorite... but I love the way the green led looks in my "Milky Blue" GBA. The reason this is really my favorite new feature, though, is because it will change to a red light when the batteries have about an hour or less left in them. This is a wonderful addition, especially for those of us who have lost a game since it was hard to notice when the power was about to cut off on the GBC.

Using The GBA

I have been lucky enough to have the GBA in my hands since 10:30 am on the morning of March 21st. When I first took it out of the box, even though I knew it was the same size as the GBC... I was almost in awe at the look of it. It did seem small. The system is very comfortable to hold. It does tend to feel heavier than the GBC, which is mostly due to the horizontal orientation as opposed to actual increased weight. (The GBA does have about 2 ounces on the GBC though.) The controls were all easy to get to and very responsive, as we would expect from a Nintendo product. You may hold the system differently depending on the type of game you are playing and the individual control layouts.

The system itself feels incredibly solid and well put together. The system also feels like no space at all has been wasted in its design. The on/off and volume controls are located on the bottom of the system and there should be zero chance of accidentally hitting either of them. The headphone port is out of the way and will not interfere with gaming. Every control feels to be in the right place and the system just reeks of quality.

Pros Of The GBA

There are numerous pros of the product, easily making it the king of portable gaming hardware. The graphics are the most notable improvement with the improved sound quality taking a notable second. IMHO, I would place the quality of GBA graphics in between the SNES and PSX as far as 2-D graphics go. (The GBA does not include dedicated 3-D hardware so, whatever we get there is a bonus.) The system feels great in your hands and plays nearly all existing Game Boy software. Battery life is also upped by a substantial amount.

Price point is also a great feature of the system, since, even at initial import pop prices, it was still easily affordable if you planned a little for it. The system will enjoy a lot of success based upon its raw merits alone..

Cons Of The GBA

Most of the complaints about the system I feel are either way off base or just completely invalid. I think that most of these complaints come from people who just do not realize how far video gaming has come in a reasonably short amount of time.

Complaint #1: No back lit screen. People throw this line around almost as much as "I'm a hardcore gamer". It is a ridiculous request. First, back lighting not only adds an expensive part to the system, but also taxes the batteries more that would be necessary. Back lit gaming system traditionally required up to 6 AA batteries and performed for as little as 3 hours on a fresh set. I actually read on Daily Radar's web site that they should have tried to use bio lumescant technology. I guess those people were just trying to show off some fringe techie knowledge since we are nowhere near adopting that type of screen for a low cost.

Complaint #2: No 3-D hardware. This is where it is bad for people who think the first video game console was the PlayStation. 3-D graphics take a lot of processing power, which equals two things in gaming hardware, power and price. To drop in a 3-D chip in the GBA at this point would most likely double the system price and cut battery life in half.

Complaint #3: Using cartridges. This is the most ridiculous one I have heard. I have seen more than few people state that mini-disc or some other technology should have been used. Carts are still perfect for portable gaming due to their durability, zero load times and relative ease of storage. Mini-discs, even though they are pretty skip proof and sturdy, would ruin the price of the machine, as well as battery life and durability due to all the moving parts. The most important reason to avoid this is due to loading times. People complain and complain about loading times then want them on a portable system where 5-minute clips of gaming are common? *sigh*

Complaint #4: The Sound. Apparently... people were expecting 3D CD quality surround sound. What we got seems to be just under the SNES standards. We took a HUGE jump in sound quality... and people are complaining. I suppose they should go back to the standard Game Boy bleeps and beeps just to prove a point.

The only real con of the product overall that I have would be the inclusion of at least one other button on the face. Some conversions of games will still be hampered with a compacted control scheme because of this. It is not a terribly big deal but it would have been nice.

Final Comments

The Game Boy Advance is simply incredible. I really cannot wait to see what kind of software we will be seeing even just a year from now. This system is a dream come true for 2-D gaming fans. Nintendo has created another masterpiece. The system is solid, reliable, and features incredible graphics and sound for a low price. You will love this system if you are a portable gaming fan.


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